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Denver Daze 

We Are Family: Reflections on the DNC

09.03.08

My journey to the Democratic National Convention began on a sweltering day in Santa Rosa more than four months ago, when a caucus of Obama supporters elected me as a delegate. Now the convention in Denver is history. And for anyone who was there, it's also a kaleidoscope of memories. Here are a few of mine.

On opening night, the convention hall came alive with genuine emotion when Ted Kennedy walked slowly and shakily onto the stage. "It is so wonderful to be here," he said. Battling the aftermath of a brain tumor, Kennedy was an irrefutable presence as he spoke about healthcare, calling it "a human right, not a privilege."

Kennedy provided the high point of the evening. The lowest came with the keynote address by a former Virginia governor, Mark Warner. His density of clichés was bad enough—it probably doesn't surprise you that "America has never been afraid of the future and it shouldn't start now"—but the speech's biggest problem was thematic.

Warner swiftly hammered on his central theme: celebrating his own rapid accumulation of personal wealth as an intrepid young entrepreneur in the telecommunications industry. The gist of his message was, "I got rich! Is this a great country or what?"

The first night's closing speech from Michelle Obama, like much of the rest of the evening, seemed to be aimed at convincing viewers that an African-American family is fully part of the United States of America.

The next morning, the front page of The Hill newspaper reported: "Racial prejudice is being cited among senior union leaders to explain Sen. Barack Obama's difficulty in winning over support from white rank-and-file members."

I scribbled a note to myself: Like it or not, the Obama campaign is a campaign against racism.

Outside the media frame, members of Military Families Speak Out were distributing a leaflet in front of the Sheraton Denver hotel (where California delegates stayed). One man quietly talked to anyone who'd listen about his son's post-traumatic stress disorder. "As military families," the leaflet said, "we know all too well that every day that this war continues more lives are forever shattered."

The convention's formal proceedings were filled with mixed messages: pro-war and antiwar, militaristic and antimilitaristic, pledging to push back against war-crazed policies of recent years and yet at pains to laud warriors and war itself as the finest flowering of individuals and country.

Scattered through the crowd, some delegates held up pink placards in the shape of a hand giving a peace sign, with a big-type declaration: "I am a delegate for PEACE." In the California delegation, I was very glad to see that one of the delegates holding up the sign was none other than Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey. For the progressive majority in North Bay, she truly represents us.

One of my other favorite moments came three-quarters of the way through the convention, late Wednesday night when the song "We Are Family" filled the amphitheater while Barack Obama stood onstage with generations of Bidens. The moment made me feel that we may be starting to redefine family as all of humanity.

While 80,000 people filled a stadium during the last night of the convention, Obama's acceptance speech alluded to vital possibilities: "What the nay-sayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me; it's about you."

I have many criticisms of Obama's positions, particularly the failure of his foreign-policy formulations to reject what Martin Luther King Jr. called "the madness of militarism." But the grassroots energies behind the Obama campaign have given us a chance to evict right-wing ideologues from the White House. Making good on that opportunity can make other opportunities possible.

Days after the end of the convention, a "grand opening" was crowded at the Sonoma County Democratic Party's new headquarters in downtown Santa Rosa. There, I spoke with two progressive candidates for the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors—Rue Furch and Shirlee Zane—who are challenging entrenched corporate interests.

Around the country, from campaigns for local offices to the presidential race, people are working to create vital momentum at the grassroots. It's time for progressive change—the sooner the better.


Norman Solomon, founder and coordinator of North Bay Healthcare Not Warfare, is the author of many books including 'War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.'Open Mic is now a weekly feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 700 words considered for publication, write openmic@bohemian.com.



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